"If I could just get inside that glass, I could hear the song in there..."

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest blog is written by Kenneth Coultas, a Tennesseean who recently visited the museum with his family and had such an impactful visit that he sent us an email to tell us about it. That email is reproduced below.

I wanted to share this story of my son’s visit to the Star-Spangled Banner exhibit:

Today was the end of our much anticipated trip to Washington, D.C. Sally, the boys, and I have looked forward to it for quite some time now. A couple of weeks back, Sally who did a marvelous job of organizing and booking the trip, flights, train tickets, etc. ordered two or three guidebooks to aid us in our journey.

For some reason or another, Evan—our five year old—has been fascinated with the photos and information regarding the original “Star-Spangled Banner” that inspired Francis Scott Key, to pen the poem that became our national anthem. The two things on his “must see” list were “The Star-Spangled Banner” and "the government." On the first day we visited the Museum of American History, he was beside himself. As we walked up the ramp to view the flag, he was careful to listen as we read each and every word on the plaques and signs. He soaked it all up like a sponge.

Star spangled banner exhibit ramp
As visitors enter the exhibition, they encounter the scene for a dramatic historic event that inspired Frances Scott Key to pen the Star-Spangled Banner: the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, when this young nation survived an assault by the British.

As we rounded the corner at the top of the ramp, his face bore the same expression that it has on the past few Christmas mornings. He was truly in awe. He knelt down and looked at the flag for what seemed like ten minutes. He carefully listened as the museum worker explained about the missing pieces from the fly end of the flag and the missing star that is rumored to have been buried with Abraham Lincoln.

Star spangled banner exhibit nmah
The-Star-Spangled Banner at the National Museum of American History

He was rather apprehensive about leaving the area, and became quite upset that the “Star-Spangled Banner” is not being played in the exhibit. The very last monitor of the exhibit plays a mega-mix of various artists singing the anthem, but it changes keys so often it is somewhat unrecognizable.

Throughout our stay in D.C., Evan would periodically get out the Smithsonian guidebook and turn to the pages where the flag was pictured and review all of the details that he had gleaned from his time at the museum. It was quite touching.

Fast forward to today, our final day in D.C. We visited the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Wall to begin the day. Then, we took a taxi to the Museum of American History to see a few of the major things (i.e., First Ladies exhibit, transportation exhibit, Spark Lab, Julia Child’s Kitchen) that we had missed on our first visit. When we noticed that our time was running out, Sally asked the boys if there was anything else that they wanted to see before we headed to Union Station to catch the train.

Isaac and Ian wanted to see one of the art museums and Evan wanted to see the flag just one more time. Sally decided to take the older boys to the sculpture gardens, and Evan and I were left to see the Banner one more time.

As we entered the exhibit, Evan carefully reminded me of what each item on display represented—the bombs, the rockets, the fort, etc. As we rounded the corner at the top of the ramp, it was clear that this was a very special place to Evan. He walked up to the glass and again knelt down. He told me all about the missing parts that had been given to the soldiers as souvenirs and the missing fifteenth star. Then he leaned next to me and said, “Dad, I know if I could just get inside that glass, I could hear the song in there.” I got choked up. I was so proud to be his dad at that moment, and so thankful that he loves our country, its flag, and its anthem.

Star spangled banner close up
The first stanza of the national anthem is projected prominently on the wall above the Star-Spangled Banner.

I hated to leave that moment, but we had to go meet the others. As we walked out of the museum, I told Evan that I sure was going to miss being in DC, but that I was sure that we’d return in a few years.

“What are you gonna miss, Evan?” I asked, already knowing what his response would be.
“Well Dad,” he replied, “I guess, I am gonna miss that dang Star-Spangled Banner.”

On the train from DC to Baltimore, we read and reread the paragraphs about the flag that inspired our national anthem. And when we touched down in Huntsville, we had to stop in the middle of the concourse to dig out the book again.

Evan, I know that not many Americans today feel as passionate about the flag as you do right now, but I hope that, unlike the stripes on that “Star-Spangled Banner” behind the glass, your patriotic spirit will never fade…

Evan at the Vietnam Wall
Evan at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Editor’s Note: We were so touched by Evan’s story that we sent him a copy of our book, The Star-Spangled Banner: The Making of an American Icon. Have you ever had an amazing experience in a museum exhibit? Did you share your story with the institution? Tell us in the comments below!

Posted at 10:29 am EDT in Musings,Now on View